START spreading the news. Paula Radcliffe is back.
Less than 10 months after giving birth to daughter Isla and two years and 81 days since she last raced over 26.2 miles Radcliffe stormed to victory in the New York Marathon.
Those vagabond shoes saw her cross the Central Park finish line 23 seconds ahead of Ethiopian Gete Wami in 2hr 23min 8sec.
It was revenge for the World Championships in 2001 when Wami pipped Radcliffe to bronze in the 10,000m by eight hundredths of a second, prompting the now infamous on-track spat with husband Gary Lough.
This time there were hugs for Gary, who handed baby Isla into her arms within seconds of the finish.
Radcliffe admitted: “I kept repeating to myself I love you Isla, I love you Isla to keep my rhythm going.”
Paula, 33, was not just a part of this race, she was determined to win from the start and repeat the victory here in 2004 when she made her comeback after the Olympic disaster in Athens after failing to finish.
She was only too aware that if she could do it here, she could do it anywhere — hopefully Beijing next summer, where Radcliffe is Britain’s best hope for athletics gold. Then maybe even London 2012.
Olympic track legend Seb Coe, chairman of the London Games, was among those waiting to congratulate her in Central Park.
The Bedford racer, who set the world-record of 2hr 15min 20sec in London in 2003, returned only last month after a two-year lay-off.
Injuries after giving birth to Isla on January 17 meant she missed the World Championships this summer and the chance to defend her marathon title.
She could manage only second place in the Great North Run in Newcastle, suffering her first half-marathon defeat in eight years as American Kara Goucher romped to victory.
But five weeks later there was no mistaking the gutsy Radcliffe of old. She led from the start on Staten Island, tailed by the tiny Wami.
By Brooklyn Radcliffe and Wami were already 40 seconds ahead of the rest of the field including reigning world champion Catherine Ndereba.
At the halfway mark — the Pulask Bridge which links Brooklyn to Queens — they were 2min 36sec up.
As they ran past the Giants Stadium Radcliffe, with her trademark knee-length socks, shades and titanium necklace, was slowing, the head bobbing more than usual.
As they edged around Central Park Wami overtook her but Radcliffe fought back, sprinting past into Columbus Circle and the gates to Central Park.
Wami — who won the Berlin Marathon 35 days earlier — had nothing else left to give and finished well back in 2hr 23min 32sec.
She admitted: “I tried to pass her but she was too strong and I couldn’t catch her again.
“When I had my child it took me three or four years to get back so I’m impressed by her.”
There was some consolation as her second place meant she picked up a £250,000 cheque for winning the World Marathon Majors series, the culmination of 10 races over 18 months.
Third was Latvian Jelena Prokpcuka, who has twice won the New York event, way behind in 2hr 26min 13sec.
Radcliffe, whose victory earned her £85,000, was well within the 2hr 37min qualifying mark for next summer’s Olympics in Beijing.
She will now have to decide whether to run another marathon in the spring, with London top of the list, or go straight to China on the back of this victory.
It was a family affair for Paula. Parents Peter and Pat were in New York for the race, having flown out to help Gary with “international baby-sitting duties.”
Gary himself clocked 2hr 41min in New York last year.
Among the celebrities taking part was seven times Tour de France winner and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong, who clocked 2hr 46min 43sec.